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‘Tully’ is ‘gross’ and that's exactly what makes it so special

Mackenzie Davis talks us through the dark comedy drama
Mackenzie Davis and Charlize Theron in Tully
[Image: Focus Features]

You don’t see many films like "Tully." Films that defiantly delve into the minutiae of everyday life and illuminates them with cinematic panache to create an impactful, thought-provoking and entertaining slice of life picture. 

The success of "Tully" isn’t just down to one person, though. Director Jason Reitman, writer Diablo Cody, cinematographer Eric Steelberg, and actors Charlize Theron, the exhausted mother of three that the film revolves around, and Mackenzie Davis, the titular night nanny that provides her with a welcome rest-bite, all combine to make it so impactful. 

I recently had the chance to speak to Davis, who opened up about “Tully,” working with Charlize Theron, Diablo Cody, and Jason Reitman, and explained why the film is proudly “gross” and “messy.”

What originally attracted you to "Tully"?
Even before reading the script, the opportunity to work with Jason, Charlize and Diablo felt like it was going to be amazing. Then the script was so beautiful and honest and raw, and the part was so different to anything I had ever played before. It felt like such a lovely space to inhabit for a month with these people that I respect so much. So there was really nothing that I didn’t like about it. Even though I don’t have children, you can tell when someone is telling a very authentic story that hasn’t been told in that way before. It felt like the first time that I had read or seen a movie that was this raw about a very normal part of life. That doesn’t get a lot of attention or fan-fare. I want to be a part of telling stories that haven’t been told before or been told in that way. So it was really that I felt like I was being led into a world that had been framed in a very different way up until this point 

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The film made me feel exhausted, and I mean that in the best possible way.
Oh my God. Even watching those scenes I was like, ‘This is too much for me. I can’t have children.’ I felt really anxious watching a lot of the scenes being filmed. 

Talk about creating the character of Tully.
I have to say it is such a less interesting answer than some sort of child-rearing boot camp, but Diablo Cody wrote really distinct characters in this movie. When I read “Tully” I felt like I knew her right away. I felt like I understood her in relationship to the other characters in the movie. It felt really immediate to me, and as though I knew something essential about this person. I was really excited to play her. I didn’t feel as though I needed to do an enormous amount of research or work really, other than generally understanding the world that she comes from and her history and what a night nanny is. Other than that so much of it was based on my relationship with Charlize, which came about so organically and was super fun to explore and didn’t require too much imagination. 

Diablo’s writing is so distinct, especially in how different all of the characters are, something that feels rare in modern cinema
That’s how I felt. It wasn’t as though I was like, ‘OK, who is this person? How am I going to make her? I have to do all of this work.’ Which can sometimes be really fun. But can also feel like you are doing work that should be in the script. It was so lovely to read this and go, ‘I know exactly who this person is. I know exactly how I want to inhabit her. I know who Marlo is and she is nothing like Tully. Craig is nothing like Marlo.’ Every character was just their own thing. Which just feels really, really rare. Where it is not just the writer’s voice the whole time, but they give each character a voice.

Talk about working with Jason then, and how he infused this raw and honest script with an entertaining and cinematic approach
Well, Jason, and I think this comes from having worked with Diablo and Charlize twice before and having such a lovely chemistry with them, he was really confident and simple. I found that he really believes in casting and letting us do the work. So there was a lot of trust in his little character quirks with Tully and things that were so lovely and so specific. He is just a really thoughtful director and has the confidence in Diablo’s script. And in the movie, and how much he understood the movie, and how much Charlize did. And he just let it happen. I felt really calmed by him. 

What was your biggest takeaway from the film?
Having a night nanny sounds good [laughs]. More just how important it is to tell gross, messy, honest depictions of people’s lives. That makes you feel like, even if you’re not going through that exact experience, it makes the film feel closer to a human experience when people are honest about what is really happening instead of presenting a beautifully filtered version of their life. I like being in movies like that, I like seeing movies like that, I like talking about movies like that. It really satisfied something I was wanting, and I was so happy to be a part of it. 

"Tully" is in cinemas on May 4.